The birds sang all over my coffee this morning, through the open window by the fire escape. I wish I knew their song. It seems like creation doesn’t hold back or get nervous or feel awkward about its praise.
It’s just the song inside and the only way is out.
The sunrise and the starlight and the sparrows under God’s watchful eye, all just singing out the songs buried inside. If I imagined myself into conversation with the birds outside my window and I asked them why they sang, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if they would think me silly and simple minded when they reply,
“…because we have song.”
This is the only option, but it is also the best and I love that the birds know that, and the mountains know that, and the life inside dead tree branches know that. Creation sings without shame or fear, but not to get glory.
Creation sings because the Creator gave them a song. And when creation sings, the songmaker is glorified.
I have a song inside, between doubts and delights and deserts. But the song is not for me. The singing is not so I can hear my own voice, but because I have a song. This, so that God would be glorified and others would see that I am also a part of the Spring chorus of sunlight and starlight and sparrows letting loose melodies into the sky.
The ash on his thumb was black and wet and when he rubbed it across my forehead I really did feel like I came from dust. The priest’s words, “From dust you came and from dust you shall return” felt like a confirmation of something I try to forget on the regular.
I was working late Ash Wednesday night, so I went with a coworker to the noon service at the local Catholic church. She knew all the right hand motions, so I just followed close behind. No one seemed to think it was weird to have a blonde-haired, non-Catholic stranger visiting their bilingual service.
And so the Lent season began.
Now, here we are in the middle and I am tempted to rush these 40 days.
If I am honest, I feel ripe for a celebration and that doesn’t fit with this somber, Lenten attitude. I crammed introspection into commutes leading up to Wednesday because I didn’t want to be hasty or thoughtless about this season. I fought for brain space between subway rappers and social media distractions because I wanted to be the right kind of prepared.
I don’t know if I accomplished all the necessary Lent preparations. I had some conversations, made some pancakes, heard some sermons, and sang some songs. But then that priest told me I was dust and I knew he was right.
And I knew I could never be the right kind ofprepared, at least I don’t think so. God is just calling me to say “Yes” to all His rightness. My heart looks like my apartment right now – boxes and disorder and confusion – but I don’t need to get right in these 40 days or in preparation for them.
I need to believe Christ is all the rightness I am not.
I need to follow Christ into the desert, to fast from distractions and feast on the Word, because He is all the rightness I am not. He is all the order I cannot muster and all the beauty I cannot duplicate.
I was truly unprepared in every way for these Lent feelings. I am the wet, black ash smeared across my forehead and there is nothing I can do to get more right. But God, in His grace is all the rightness I am not. He makes a way for me to feast as I fast. He makes a way for the lowly and the weak to praise His name.
Whoa. whoa. whoa.
I can stretch into that kind of praise, with a heart that looks like a hurricane and a house that looks haphazard. I can sing this song with a full heart and know that the God who formed me from dust hears my humble song!
I moved here in the sweltering heat of August for all the wrong reasons. Well, for the one main reason most rational people would caution you against moving across the country.
I moved to New York City for love.
It happened fast, but it had been building for something like 10 years so it didn’t feel completely irresponsible to fall in love with my best friend who showed up on my doorstep in Des Moines, Iowa after a year of not speaking to say “I love you.” (Yes, he led with that.)
The excited mess of planning over late night skype calls felt very silly and romantic. I flew out to visit and again for job interviews – a guest in his high-powered and hipster concrete city. I sold my car and purged my belongings, keeping important things like handmade crafts from high school and souvenirs from service trips. I finagled vacation time and work schedules and organized all the little roots I spread out in the two years of life in Iowa. I held my breath, quit my job, bought my ticket to La Guardia, and then found out I had an offer to start on the exact weekend I would be arriving in Brooklyn.
In March, it will be a year since that cold, brown night on my doorstep on Dunham Avenue. I feel pretty reckless and young and silly sometimes, but I am not a stranger to adventure. I chase it and it chases me, on the regular. That’s part of what makes Patrick and me a pretty perfect pair. We both love adventure.
But this is different.
There is something very vulnerable about involving another person in my adventure – something unnerving about another someone walking through the good days and the bad days and caring which kind of day it was. I slip into silence often. I shake off questions I can’t give good answers to. I stack my schedule with good things. I slide into smiles when I can’t find anything better to do.
This year I learned I am picky about my adventures and selfish about how I would like them to play out. When I’ve had enough adventure, I want the freedom to hide away without anyone wondering why I’m hiding or where. I want to be reckless on my own schedule and I moved to a city where it could be done. Selfish recklessness.Self-centered, ambitious adventure.
Sometimes, inside adventure, I am especially aware that nothing can be poured out from emptiness. No matter how many times you tip over an empty cup, nothing will always come out. Because we cannot make something from nothing, only God can do that.
Only God can take what is empty in me and fill it with abundance. But He is not just able, He has promised. Christ came to bring life abundant (John 10:10). God loves to give good gifts to His children who ask (Matthew 7:11), because He is the only One who can give good gifts (James 1:17). These truths remind my soul I cannot conjure up abundance on my own.
God promises to fill me up when adventure has left me empty and when I want to hide away. And I believe it. He promises that in His presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) and He will give us the desires of our hearts if we are delighting in Him (Psalm 37:3-4).
I can choose to believe the abundance I cannot feel.
And the most beautiful thing about abundance (apart from the miracle that it can happen in empty space) is that it cannot be contained. Overflow pushes out beyond boundaries. An abundant life reaches beyond self and into the lives of others with the good things I cannot own or create.
I am daily aware of my emptiness in Brooklyn and the emptiness of selfish adventure. But the bigger adventure and the greater delight is in adventuring while believing God for the next step. I can claim His promises of abundance when I feel most empty, because He is a promise keeper. He will not only fill me up, but He will overflow my life into joyful relationship with neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow adventurers. He is abundance and today I am believing.
Patrick is still my favorite person to adventure with. Heck, he is kind of my favorite person all together (I don’t know anyone else who would consistently walk me home at 2, 3, and 4 am). But this empty-to-abundance thing is something only God can offer and we both need that on a daily basis. Knowing and claiming God’s promises means I am not asking Patrick to be the miracle I need for emptiness.
Only God can do that.
I kind of feel like I should be in a good place, a better place, to write a blog post for the Skinny Dip Society blog tour. I should be more positive or more focused or more free. But it is winter in Brooklyn and I don’t feel those things and I refuse to be dishonest. I am in the place I am in today. Profound, I know.
Right here is a good place to claim the abundance I cannot feel.
I am a work in progress, but I am learning to believe abundance is something that can overflow every moment, even the forever winter Brooklyn moments. I am shaking the should be’s and the more of’s to believe abundance can happen here, where I am.
This post is part of a series of 25 bloggers over 25 days sharing as part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, hosted by Katie Den Ouden. Be sure to check out Lauren’s post from yesterday, on Forgiveness, and Bonnie’s post tomorrow. Katie will also finish up a 21-Day Freedom challenge tomorrow, but don’t worry you can still get in on some of the wild and free action! Find out how you can enroll in her 12 week immersion program. She is a beautiful inspiration, so you won’t regret spending time checking out her stuff. You can catch up on the past few weeks of her blog tour–over here.
Usually, when I talk about abundance I am talking about the kind of life Jesus came to bring.
I’m talking about overflowing cups and about grace that is more than enough. I’m talking about bust-at-the-seams joy and about delight that chases sunlight. Usually, when I talk about abundance, it sounds like things you want to have seeping out from the pores of your life.
Then I read these words from Francis Schaeffer in True Spirituality,
“We are surrounded by a world that says no to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by binges and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying no to things and no to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us.” – Schaeffer, True Spirituality
This is a different, empty abundance, and it is everywhere. I can literally think of absolutely any desire and then indulge at some point on my commute home from work. Feeling sad? Eat cake. Feeling tired? Buy a latte. Feeling lonely? Arrange a meet up with friends. Feeling overcrowded? Pick up takeout and watch netflix. Feeling poor? Swipe your plastic to prove you can still splurge. Feeling bored at work? Job search on Linkedin while in transit. Feeling achy and sore? Swing by the corner store for medicines.
We don’t like to be limited.
We want an abundance we control – an abundance that serves us and gratifies our petty, momentary desires. We want an abundance that tastes like chocolate and comfort and success. We want an abundance that never hurts, never sweats, never needs anything but our desire for more of it. We want an abundance we can control.
Schaeffer is framing a concept in the second chapter that makes pretty much everyone uncomfortable. He doesn’t even try to ease into it… he titled the chapter The Centrality of Death. He pulls us into a conversation about the real issue at stake as we try to live out the Christian life. He writes,
“It is not, for example, a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather that in the midst of the moving of life, surrounded by a world that grabs everything in rebellion, first against God and then against fellow men, we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves with regard to that which is not rightfully ours.” – Francis Scaeffer, True Spirituality
in the midst of the moving of life … we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves
Yes, it is in the midst of the moving of life that we get especially uncomfortable with denying ourselves. Because that is when we reach for quick fixes. We have a very real empty filling, but we would prefer to orchestrate our own abundance.
This really got stuck in my soul this week. I would like to think otherwise, but this is my story as much as it is any average New Yorker’s. I self medicate with coffees and chocolates and plans and hipster toys. “Death by choice,” as Schaeffer calls it, does not sound appealing. But, his encouragement is that there is no way around it. If we want the kind of abundance Christ offered, it will come by way of death.
“The order – rejected, slain, raised – is also the order of the Christian life of true spirituality; there is no other.” Schaeffer, True Spirituality
What power is there in being raised if we were never buried? What miracle is there in new birth if the old is still around? The Christian life is an everyday dying of self, an everyday denying of selfish desires. But the Christian life is also an everyday revival and an everyday raising.
My soul is looking like a seesaw over this truth.
I am learning what it means to die to self everyday so that I can live the miracle of being raised. That is when abundance starts to make sense – when you know what you have died to and what you have been raised for.
There is this thing in soccer called “chances created.” It’s a statistic that tracks how many times a soccer player has created chances for plays. I heard about it yesterday at church because our pastor’s favorite soccer player is known for his “chances created” statistic.
And this matters because the friends of the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8 were about creating chances. They knew that carrying their friend to the door of the home where Jesus was preaching was not enough. The crowd craned their necks from all windows and doorways to see and hear the teaching; there was no way to get their friend to the front where Jesus stood.
Oh, sure, they could have turned back and no one would have asked why. But they were about creating chances – they were determined to get their friend to the feet of Jesus because they thought something unbelievable could happen.
There was no guarantee, just a chance to witness something beautiful.
And that belief was big enough to motivate their deconstructing a roof and their Macgyvering a lowering system to interrupt Jesus’ teaching with the presence of a disabled man.
The presence of Jesus was that important.
They created a chance for their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus because they believed it could change his life forever. Even just the chance was worth the sweat and trouble and questioning stares. Worth it.
Do I think getting uncomfortable and awkward and tired is worth the chances it creates for others to meet Jesus?
Sometimes I waste time weighing out my options. I wonder if the invitations will be received well and if the conversation will be offensive. I wonder about future conversations and wonder if I will keep or lose friendships. I wonder about looking silly and feeling ashamed. I wonder about how much the other person even wants a chance to meet Jesus.
But these guys, they were relentless. And when their paralyzed friend finally got lowered down with the Bible times version of duct tape and WD 40, Jesus surprised everyone.
He looked past the paralyzed man’s obvious and most debilitating physical need. He looked past the years of struggle and got inside his heart… and what He saw needed forgiving. Whatever it was, we can all relate. We are all the paralyzed man, inside. We all need to get to the foot of Jesus so He can expose what is dark apart from any physical anxieties that knot us up on the outside.
So, this was the man’s chance at the feet of Jesus – his chance to experience something that would transform everything else about his mat-constrained life. And then Jesus healed this paralyzed man of sin. He forgave him for all the darkness hiding out in his heart. That was the magic and that was the mystery – the play that happened as a result of the chance created.
After the crowd backlashed and questioned, Jesus also healed the man’s physical body so that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is Lord over the spiritual and the physical. All of it, everything.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper
This is why we are chance creators.
Because God is the best at unearned surprises – the eternal and physical, the now and future, the simple and complex kinds. He is the best at surprises and we must be about creating chances for friends and neighbors and strangers to sit at His feet.
We don’t know what will happen, but it will never be bad.
God will always be glorified and it will always be worth it.
We’re still in that season on the church calendar called Epiphany, but it sure is easy to forget about it. Without the Christmas clutter, whether we embrace it or fight it, we are less aware of any spiritual season. At least I am.
And then a song comes through my headphones on my way to work in the morning called Lazarusby Jon Guerra. I remember that this season is about practicing presence. I remember that Jesus walked the earth – that He came to live with us, inside our human struggle. And when he saw pain and death and sickness, he walked towards it. He was fully present in every kind of place with every kind of person.
This is how Jesus responded when the sisters sent word that the one He loved was sick,
“But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4
He did not rush like an EMT to the scene or run the opposite direction from the tragedy’s sadness. He did not avoid Judea, though the people tried to stone him the last time he was in town. Jesus was slow, steady, and confident that his presence possessed the authority of the One who sent Him.
And I forget that.
I forget that Jesus is present in the darkness of this world and present in the darkness of my heart. He walks toward the darkness and offends it with the light of His truth. He walks toward dead bones and this is what he says,
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
His presence means resurrection and it means life. And we are all Lazarus, dead for four days, lost in darkness. We are all wrapped up, bodies bandaged and cold, when He makes Himself present to us and then makes us alive to Him. Do we believe this? Do we live believing that faith means we will never die? Do we walk out God’s daily miracles of future grace with a confidence of one who will live forever?
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43
Every day, he stands at the door of our death tombs and says, “Come out.” He reminds us that He is present here in this dark day and in our dark hearts. He calls for us to be present with Him and to be His presence. He calls us to “come out” of darkness in order to speak life into a world of death.
This is the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate Jesus being present among us. Let us not forget all His benefits (Psalm 103)!
We think we’ve wrangled enough control away from the arms of fate to coordinate our own puppet strings. We convince ourselves we are more secure this way – directing our own destinies. If the pace gets too frantic, we say it is because we want it to be that way. If it is too slow, we say the same.
We are all trying to “make it” and none of us want to fail. That explains the mad wrangling to be master puppeteer. But that means somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter’s whirlwind, we lift up our stringless arms like we’ve seen them for the first time. We realize there are no puppets and no Master Puppeteer. We realize the fate controlling position we have been desperate to maintain is not a position at all.
It doesn’t matter if the ways we want to “make it” are worldly or heaven worthy. It doesn’t matter if our aspirations are corporate ladders or non-profit puzzles. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are clever. It doesn’t even matter if we have felt success.
What matters is that somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter’s whirlwind, we see that only God is sovereign.
Maybe in theory, we always knew. We read the verses and heard the sermons and listened to friends’ humbled tales. We looked up at that great blue expanse and at the speckled night sky. We blinked eyes open in the morning and held joy in our hands. In theory, we always knew this world was too mysterious and painful and beauty-drenched to be contained by strings we could hold.
The devil in us convinced us it was possible and we believed.
But there’s something about winter that unravels the belief that we can control anything. Maybe it is standing on a subway platform wondering if our ten toes are still in tact. Or maybe it is trudging miles every day against the wind to catch public transit so we can make it 3.7 miles across the borough. Maybe it is lugging laundry 3 blocks away in wintry snow/rain mix. Or maybe it is gaining weight and wearing layers like marshmallows.
And when winter does unravel this foolish belief that we can be the Master Puppeteer (and that there is such a thing at all), we collapse a little bit with a great sigh. We fold into relief that it doesn’t depend on our performance or our planning. We re-read the words we’ve already memorized in Scripture and we nestle in to a future we cannot control.
“My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
“Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” 1 Corinthians 3:21-23
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7
“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” John 16:23-24
“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Mark 11:24
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3
“Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” 1 John 3:22
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 2 Corinthians 9:8
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation.” Psalm 68:19
We bless the Lord who daily bears our burdens – not as a Puppeteer but as a Savior. We bless the Lord as we claim His control over the future and the past and the present. We bless the Lord as we live today believing He is able to make grace abound.